Phillip John Usher

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20132014 Forum on Violence

Phillip John Usher

Assistant Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Barnard College

Until I saw It— Tragedy and Violence During the French Wars of Religion

In my project "Until I saw It— Tragedy and Violence During the French Wars of Religion," I bring face to face an extended and theoretically informed reflection on the nature of violence (e.g. Agamben, Benjamin, Derrida, Žižek) and an historically contextualized study of French Renaissance tragedy during the Wars of Religion (1562-98). Central to the study is a problem, identified by a contemporary witness of the Renaissance religious violence, Montaigne, is the idea that extreme violence cannot be believed "until one sees it" and that once it is seen, our philosophical and political categories (man, polis, etc.) are immediately corrupted. By reading tragedies by writers like Robert Garnier and Jean de la Péruse, in part via Nietzsche's identification of opposing Apollonian and Dionysian elements in tragedy, and in dialogue with the theoreticians of violence mentioned above, I hypothesize that these tragedies aimed, precisely, to inhibit the 'turn to the monstrous,' thus inaugurating a space for political response to violence.